Woody Allen doesn’t often act in films that he hasn’t directed these days, so John Turturro’s fifth film as director, Fading Gigolo, has at least one claim to fame. In it, Turturro stars as a middle-aged man, Fioravante, who allows himself to be pimped out by his older friend Murray (Allen), whose dermatologist (Sharon Stone) has expressed interest in a ménage a trois with her female friend. They just need a man.
The film is a curious watch: relaxed and well performed, but lacking a strong through-line. Turturro plays the initially reluctant titular figure with reserve, and he and Allen have some good scenes together that generate some laughs. The comedy bar is pleasantly restrained throughout; although the potential for bawdiness here is rife, it is generally sidestepped in favour of a more reserved tone.
Though the two lead actors work well together, Murray becomes little more than a subplot after the setup is in place, and Fioravante appears to start falling for a Jewish widow called Avigal (Vanessa Paradis). Indeed, as a film, Fading Gigolo feels more like a gathering of subplots than a story in itself. The gigolo storyline is passingly interesting, but doesn’t develop into much of anything. It begins to look like the whole thing might be contextualised by Fioravante’s burgeoning relationship with Avigal, but that subplot is weighed down by an auxiliary thread involving a local patrolman (Liev Schreiber), and most of the interest has been thrown away by the time we reach a bizarre Jewish trial.
Delicate and lonely Avigal emerges as the fleeting heart of the film, but the narrative doesn’t give that idea the attention it needs to really hit home. Similarly, the two women set to feature in Fioravante’s threesome (Stone and Sofía Vergara) have little real impact on the story, and the whole idea of the gigolo storyline sort of, well, fades.
Turturro directs in a relaxed style, with jazz accompaniments, which is sometimes reminiscent of Allen’s own films, particu larly when Allen is on screen doing his thing. The two of them make for a good double act in some strong scenes, but the film as a whole feels light, without too much real substance.